In-depth World Building is essential to a good story. The deeper and more cohesive the world you build, the more believable the story becomes. What is interesting however, is the unintended effects world building can have on the writing of the story itself.
I have always been fascinated by the idea of entropy. Entropy is invisible, or otherwise inaccessible information that resides within a physical system of particles. Every interaction a system has, irreversibly alters the information contained within it. Though most of these alterations may be hidden, they affect all future interactions the system has. Put romantically, our past irreversibly affects our futures.
So what does this have to do with world building? Everything. The deeper and more cohesive a world you build, the more potential interactions its inhabitants can have. The more baggage and history your world’s inhabitants have, the more literary entropy they will hold. This entropy will give them a weight and substance that while unseen, affects everything around them.
It can happen by Accident
When I first conceived A Boy Named Zephyr, it was done very crudely. I came up with a basic plot, threw in some characters to realize said plot, and then wrote from point A to B. The end results made it more difficult to continue the story. Something was missing.
I originally started the Gemsong Saga website to help advertise the Gemsong Saga series. Originally, I intended to add background info for the various characters. Any details that were cut from the book due to time or space constraints could find a home on the website as well. My hope was that it could eventually be a nice companion for readers. The website has instead become an essential tool for world building – So much so, that the plot for the subsequent books are in essence, writing themselves because of it.
It is relatively easy to describe a character. It is easy to tell someone about a place. Where it gets hard, is making sure all the different details mesh together. Sometimes putting the details together results in a gap. To fill this gap, you add in details somewhere else to tie the two pieces together. Little by little, these details start to interact with one another. Before I knew it, these minor details had started to explain history and places I didn’t even know existed.
When World Building Writes the Plot for you
Though it had started by accident, I decided to embrace the website as a tool for world building. Places I had trouble defining, gave birth to new people and places. These people and places in turn, started to paint very clear motivations for existing characters.
By simply filling in the blanks, I had an entirely new story arc for the second book in the Gemsong Saga series. This arc touches upon subjects I never would have otherwise considered, and ties together large plot points in elegant ways I never would have expected. There is a depth and realism to the second book that I don’t think could have been obtained any other way.
Though the bulk of the world building I’ve done will likely never find a home on the pages of a book, I don’t think of it as wasted effort. The literary entropy it has provided, and will continue to provide, gives the story I want to tell a weight I’ve not ever felt in any of my work.
After weeks of fruitlessly trying to tie together plot lines, the world I’ve slowly built has started to do the work for me. If you find yourself with an incurable case of writer’s block, step away from the story and look at the world you’ve built. It might just lend you a helping hand.